Limelight: Michelle Grant
Sep 22, 2016 3:19:16 PM ⋅ Shanghai
By Sebastian David
Photos by Viktor Grabovets
Clothes by G-Star RAW
1AMJOY met up with M1NT and Lola Club resident DJ, Michelle Grant, for a Limelight interview covering her career, what it means for her to be a DJ, and the stereotypes and challenges female DJs often face, a topic Michelle is very outspoken about.
You mentioned Shanghai was the place where it all clicked for you in terms of professional DJ’ing. Would you still be a DJ if you hadn’t come here?
I don’t think so. I might have had a totally different life with a husband and a different job. My life has been shaped by certain key decisions that brought me to places I hadn’t been before. The first decision was to study Chinese as my major at university in Russia. The second decision was to come to Shanghai. The third decision was to choose to be a DJ as my main career, and another decision was to have my hair braided. Having dreadlocks gave me a more recognizable image as an artist. It gave me some attitude.
How would you describe your music?
I really play a lot of house music and I describe it as always having a “girl vibe”. Even when I’m playing underground music I always have some vocals and tribal motifs because it makes it groovy but it’s more a female kind of groovy. Even when I play more commercial sets, I still have a lot of house tracks in-between; it always has this female touch. I want to bring emotions to people through my sets.
In your opinion and from your own experience, what are some of the stereotypes that female DJs face?
There are many. In some cases with local big brand events, you’re expected to wear a “hostess” outfit or something Lady Gaga would wear. Once at a gig in Suzhou, I came for the sound check and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt; I noticed that they were advertising me as a Top 100 DJ, which of course I am not. The club manager went up to my agent and asked him “is she going to change into a costume?” I told my agent to tell the manager that I am a Top 100 DJ and this is what Top 100 DJs wear. So he agreed; it was their mistake to list me as a Top 100 DJ.
To be fair, wouldn’t you say that in any country in the world, DJs, both male and female (and the events promoting them), try to display or promote their appearance to the best of their ability?
Not all female DJs around the world are dressed like Lady Gaga or like Madonna from the 80s! Of course a female DJ should look pretty and look like a female.
Don’t you think male DJs are also under the same media pressure to keep up a star image by looking youthful and fit for their gigs and social media by hitting the gym every day and watching what they eat?
It’s not true; after a certain age most male DJs don’t need to look that fit anymore. Men can depend on their name and reputation as a DJ after their “physical prime” if over. But for women it’s much more difficult.
A lot of DJs are starting to prefer corporate event gigs because they pay better, they take place during the day or at least not late at night, and it also has prestige when you’re DJ’ing for a major brand’s event.
I need to be super honest with you. A lot of DJs who work in sh*tty clubs prefer corporate gigs but as a real DJ you can’t say “I’ll stop playing at the clubs” because playing at a club is a fantastic feeling. For example, last night we had an amazing night at Lola, I haven’t slept since, I was so excited. I wouldn’t change this feeling for anything as a DJ or as an artist. The same when I play at M1NT, whether it’s the lounge or the main club area, I see the people having a good time and I know it’s because I’m giving them that great time with my music and I’m so happy to do that, and there’s nothing “corporate” about that.
How do DJs who don’t have a “good residency” maintain their own “artistic integrity” when working for clubs that demand of them to play a certain kind of music?
There was a time when I also didn’t have a good residency, but even then, there is a way to mix in the music you like and add your own “touch”. No matter which kind of genre you play, you can choose the kind of remixes you want to match your music style. A lot of techno DJs that are playing in the big clubs in Shanghai now, are mixing their techno music into their sets, and it’s fantastic.
You mentioned you wanted to get more involved in production projects. What did you mean by that?
I want to produce my own music. But now it’s very difficult to balance that with my DJ residencies, preparing for gigs and my boyfriend (laughs); it’s just impossible. There is a school that opened recently in Shanghai called Ctrl Sound Academy for music production, or “sound engineering” as it’s called, but I’d have to cut down on my gigs and residencies to have the time for that.
Michelle, thank you for your time!